The University of Saint Joseph faces a proposed class action over its alleged refusal to refund tuition and fees for the semesters moved to an online learning format in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lawsuit claims that after Saint Joseph closed its West Hartford, Connecticut campus and transitioned classes online in late March 2020, the school thereafter failed to provide the benefits and services for which students paid tuition and fees.
The plaintiff, a full-time student in Saint Joseph’s Master of Social Work program, says that although she does not dispute that the university’s decision to cease in-person classes was warranted, she “asks merely to be refunded the money she spent for services that were not provided.” The case argues that even though Saint Joseph failed to provide classrooms, in-person faculty instruction and an on-campus experience after transitioning to online classes, it nevertheless demanded that students pay the full tuition price.
“By failing to apportion the burden of the pandemic equitably or consistent with its contractual or educational obligations, the University of Saint Joseph’s violated public policy, harmed students as consumers of higher education, and acted unfairly,” the complaint charges.
Per the suit, Saint Joseph announced on March 17, 2020 that all instruction, starting March 23, would be provided remotely, and thereafter shuttered its campus. The lawsuit argues that the remote learning options provided to students for the second half of the Spring 2020 semester “cannot replace the comprehensive educational experience” for which they paid tuition and fees. After classes were moved online, students were allegedly deprived of access to campus facilities, faculty, student collaboration, on-campus living, school events, dialogue, feedback and critique, which the case argues are “essential to the educational experience.”
Moreover, the lawsuit notes that academic studies have found that online courses “do less to promote academic success” than in-person classes. Per the suit, the online options offered to students “could only provide a fraction” of the full value of the in-person education for which they paid.
The case goes on to state that Saint Joseph announced in August 2020 that it would be adopting a “HyFlex approach” to the Fall 2020 semester, whereby students could purportedly choose between in-person and remote learning. According to the case, however, most courses were only offered online, and students were not given enough time to pursue other options, such as applying to another school.
The lawsuit claims that although students continued to pay full tuition, Saint Joseph has failed to uphold its end of the bargain:
“The plaintiff and class members substantially performed their contractual obligations. The University of Saint Joseph did not.”
The lawsuit, which echoes the allegations central to an ongoing trend of litigation against colleges and universities over their apparent failure or refusal to issue tuition and fee refunds amid the COVID-19 crisis, looks to represent the following proposed class:
“Any person who paid or caused to be paid tuition and/or fees to attend the University of Saint Joseph when classes and/or coursework were limited in whole or in part to online attendance as a result of or in connection with COVID-19.”
ClassAction.org’s coverage of COVID-19 litigation can be found here and over on our Newswire.